Why focus on forests and climate change?
The climate changes happening now and those expected before the end of the 21st century have serious implications for ecosystems and the benefits they provide, including temperature regulation, watershed protection and flood control, erosion reduction, wood and fuel delivery, recreational and aesthetic value, and species habitat (see more on effects in the Climate Science Primer ). Both public and private natural resource managers are entrusted with maintaining these services in spite of the challenges posed by climate change and other threats. Actively managing forests and other ecosystems so they can adapt to climate change is a form of risk management. It can help to maintain the many benefits we receive from ecosystems, and avoid future costs that might come from reacting too late to changes.
Science on how climate change will affect ecosystems has advanced rapidly, yet has often left managers with the question of what on-the-ground actions to take to respond to these effects. Fortunately, approaches to forest adaptation have been advancing as well, and practical solutions are being developed through collaborations between researchers and managers (see our Moving Forward page in this section). Because of the variety of existing goals for ecosystem management, and the diversity of natural resources in the U.S., no single solution and no individual approach to climate change will be appropriate in all situations. These pages offer an overarching framework for addressing climate change issues in natural resource management.
Principles for Managing under Climate Change
Land managers have many tools available to begin to address climate change; however management thinking could be expanded to consider new issues, spatial scales, timing, and prioritization of efforts. The following principles can serve as a starting point for a new perspective:
Prioritization: It will be increasingly important to prioritize actions for adaptation based both on the vulnerability of resources and on the likelihood that actions to reduce vulnerability will be effective.
Flexible and adaptive management: Adaptive management provides a science-based, experimental framework for decision-making that maintains flexibility and incorporates new knowledge and experience over time.
"No regrets" decisions: Actions that result in a wide variety of benefits under multiple scenarios and have little or no risk may be initial places to look for near-term implementation.
Precautionary actions: Where vulnerability is high, precautionary actions to reduce risk in the near term, even with existing uncertainty, may be extremely important.
Variability and uncertainty: Climate change is much more than increasing temperatures; increasing climate variability will lead to equal or greater impacts that will need to be addressed.
Integrating mitigation: Many adaptation actions are complementary with actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and actions to adapt forests to future conditions can help maintain and increase their ability to sequester carbon.
Managing multiple stressors: Impacts from changing climate are often first felt through their effect on ecological disturbance (wildlife, flood, insects and disease). Managing ecosystems for resilience to these forces is a wise place to focus resource action.